By: Erin Taylor
My 13 year old son used to wake up before me every day when he was younger. But when puberty knocked on the door when he was in sixth grade, all of that suddenly changed as his biological clock nudged him to go to sleep later and wake up later, or at least with more difficulty. Throughout middle school, I have found myself calling him over and over in the mornings to get him up, and then calling upstairs to give him multiple reminders about what time it is so that he is not late to school. Since my evolution as a conscious parent, mornings with all three of my children are usually fairly pleasant and peaceful, so this issue had not really made its way onto my mindful radar. However, when I called him one morning last week, he made a comment that launched this issue to the top of my radar.
“It’s 7:25, you need to come downstairs” I called.
“I know” he growled angrily.
“Excuse me, why are you yelling at me?” I inquired.
“Because I am annoyed that you are waking me up in the morning when I am tired and don’t want to get up.” he replied.
This was a school morning needless to say. At once, I was reminded that getting up to get to school on time is his responsibility, not mine. In that very moment, I quietly asked myself why I had continued assuming this responsibility with my son for the past 2.5 years. The only answer that came to me was that I was worried/scared/anxious/nervous that he would oversleep and be late for school. Ah, there you are, anxiety. (Not) so nice to see you.
My son has been one of my greatest teachers. He was born highly independent, self-motivated for what he wants and very capable. In many ways I have been able to practice handing responsibility over to him that rightfully belongs to him. For example, we do not check his grades constantly. We do not ask him daily if he has homework. We check in a few times each marking period and that is it. We have given him nearly complete autonomy in his “job” which is school. (Of course, we would have been more hands-on if he had needed it due to a learning challenge or something of that nature.)
So why was it that I was holding on to this job of waking him up in the morning? Very simply put, I knew he would get a demerit for being late and three demerits for being late in one marking period would result in a detention for him. So I was trying to protect him and have him avoid the school’s consequence for lateness. The purest of intentions, right? But can you see how even our purest intentions as parents can still end up not serving our children or moving them towards independence (which is ultimately our job as parents)? So why did I continue? I have allowed him to face potential consequences for other things in his life. Why not this? As I continued pondering that question, I realized that as a kid I was very much a rule-follower and I never wanted to get a demerit or detention or in trouble of any kind. That was my fear from childhood, and I have been trying all this time to protect him from my fear. But he doesn’t even have the same fear! He’s not going to try to earn a demerit by being late but if he does, he is not really all that worried about it. I realized I was allowing my own childhood experiences to influence how I was interacting with my son. Not very conscious or mindful of me. But I don’t beat myself up when I stray off the path because I know that self-love is the most important part of living a whole, satisfying, healthy life, so I simply try to do better once I know better. It really is that simple.
So this weekend, we had a discussion about the morning routine. My son actually told me he does not want me to wake him up, and that it is rather annoying to hear me calling and calling him in the mornings. He said he wants to be entirely responsible for waking himself up and that the only thing he would like me to do in the mornings is to come into his room and turn on the light (to help him become a little more awake). I agreed that I was willing to do that one small thing. So the first school morning after our discussion, I went into his room and turned on the light and walked back out with complete ease. I literally felt as if I could breathe more easily; as if a weight had been removed from my chest. Guess what? He was downstairs 15 minutes earlier than usual, and we had a lovely few minutes until it was time to leave for school.
Though I know he didn’t need to hear this from me, I commended him on his responsibility that morning and thanked him for helping the morning to run smoothly. And just like that, the responsibility now rests with its rightful owner. It has been three days and every single day I have gone into his room and turned on his light and walked out; no anxiety whatsoever. Coming to a full understanding of the situation allowed me to release my fear and anxiety about it completely. This morning on the way to school, I complimented both him and my 10 year old daughter. (She has heard our discussions about getting up for school and she actually asked me if she could have the same responsibility. Of course!) I commented to both of them how pleasant our mornings this week have been and how much I have enjoyed them and I am glad I don’t have to call them over and over each morning. My son reminded me that I never had to call him over and over in the first place and he never actually wanted me to. I then reiterated that it was all in my head thinking that it was my responsibility and that I wished I had handed this responsibility over long ago.
I am realistic enough to know that there may be times when he oversleeps and is late for school. If it happens one or two times, I am going to remind myself that that is not an indication that I need to take back ownership of him getting up in the morning. Rather, we will need to have a discussion about the time that he chooses to go to bed at night. Anxiety is not welcome in this situation and I will work mindfully to ensure that it doesn’t insidiously creep back in. Can we take this approach in all of our parenting struggles?